The Somali Region (Somalia, Puntland, and Somaliland) is emerging from conflict and instability. The diaspora who fled as refugees during the civil war are returning home with wealth and knowledge acquired from abroad. They are investing in the reconstruction of the region and linking it to the rest of the world. Somalis are entrepreneurial by nature. Even those who have never left the region embrace a culture of business that rivals the capitalism celebrated in the United States.
Access to affordable energy is a driver of economic development and crucial to ensuring long term stability. However, the region currently has an energy deficit. It relies on imported petroleum-based fuel distributed across inefficient grid systems. Fewer than a quarter of Somalis have access to electricity. The few who can afford electricity pay up to 6 times more per kilowatt hour than other countries. Instead, most rely on biomass, like charcoal or wood, for their energy needs.
Despite its lack of basic infrastructure for traditional energy production and distribution, the Somali region has the highest potential for onshore wind power in Africa. Additionally, it receives some of the best solar irradiation in the world. With the right type of investments, Somali renewable energy could be the single greatest boost to the region’s economy; reducing the cost of doing business across the private sector.
To the outside world, the Somali Region can seem like a failed state governed by jihadists, pirates, and famine. This has made access to financing difficult for Somalis. Even in peaceful Somaliland, local banks are not recognized by international financial institutions, disconnecting them from the global economy. Although solar panels and wind turbines provide cheap electricity, purchasing them requires capital intensive investments. Without reliable credit schemes, Somalis are forced to pay large amounts of cash up front for renewable technology, creating a barrier of entry to the sector.
I made this video with a group called Shuraako (a Somali-Arabic word that means partnership), a non-profit in the United States that identifies and recommends eligible Somali businesses to impact investors and charitable funds; then services those who are approved for financing. Shuraako holds events, and awards loans to businesses in the sector, analyzes the energy landscape, and convenes industry leaders. These activities bring awareness to Somali renewable energy opportunities and encourage investment.
I traveled to Somaliland and Puntland to interview consumers, power providers, policy makers, and energy experts. The resulting short documentary is a survey of the current Somali electricity sector, renewable energy trends, and implications for the region’s growth and stability.
This video was used by Shuraako as an advocacy tool in meetings with Somali governmental ministries, financial providers, energy producers, and the international community. At the Somaliland Investment Forum in Hargeisa in September 2016, the video was screened at the announcement of the Powering Progress Fund, a $750,000 impact investment from Shuraako and Dahabshiil Bank. The fund will scale up renewable energy technology in micro, small, and medium enterprises in Somaliland.
In addition, the Somali renewable energy technicians featured in the video use it to market their businesses and have reported an increase in customers.
The sun and wind previously made the desert environment inhospitable. Now they are essential inputs to transforming the region into a livable place. Like the smartphones that have found their way into the majority of Somali’s pockets, renewable energy seems poised to be Somaliland’s next leapfrog technology.
Just as important as infrastructure are the skilled technicians who maintain these systems. Investing in human capital by improving linkages between Somali and international technical programs, establishing third-party accreditation mechanisms, and increasing the number of high quality training programs will be necessary to sustain the industry over the long term.
Powering Progress is a video intended to cut through the pervasive narrative themes that characterize Somalia: violence, poverty, and religious fundamentalism. The good news stories coming out of the Horn of Africa need to be told if peace is to be achieved. It is my hope that this video illuminates a path toward an energy secure future in the Somali region.